Work invading Israelis' home lives

On an OECD index of home-career balance, Israel scores an unflattering 5.5 out of 10.

French workers have always been an object of envy by their peers around the world: their long August vacation, during which it is impossible to find a living soul on the streets, because everyone is on holiday; a short workweek; strong unions; and generous pensions. Now, there is a new reason for envy: a labor contract signed with one million workers in the consultancy and high-tech industries, including Facebook and Google employees in the country, requires the employees to turn off their work telephones and computers from 6 pm, and orders their workplaces not to require employees to read e-mails or answer work calls outside of work hours.

Can this agreement work in the smartphone era? Is it at all possible to separate work hours from private time under conditions of constant online hookup? According to a survey by Matchup Placement Ltd., which specializes in sales and marketing jobs, 88% of Israelis work outside of work hours in the evenings and on weekends, half respond to e-mails, and more than a third answer work-related calls. The definition of work includes answering one work-related e-mail, message, or telephone call outside of work hours.

91% of the respondents work during vacations, and 58% say that their workplace requires them to do so.

The survey covered 287 employees in different industries. It found that work during vacations included answering work-related calls, reading and responding to e-mails, and checking voicemail. 42% of the respondents say that they tend to take a laptop on vacation, and 15% take a tablet. More than 70% of respondents say that bringing these computers on vacation greatly increases the probability that they will work while on vacation.

"We can see that 24% of employees who take their work home say that they do so in order to carry out tasks they did not complete during the workday," says Matchup CEO Sigal Shachar.

The data are supported by an OECD index, which examines the balance between home and career. Israel receives an unflattering score of 5.5 out of 10. For the sake of comparison, Germany has a score of 8.6 and France has a score of 8.2. Even Americans, who coined the word "workaholic", have a better score than Israelis, at 6.7.

Adv. Dafna Shmuelevich of Rubin-Shmuelevich Law Offices, an expert in labor relations, agrees that the problem is not payment for overtime for working from home, but the quality of life. "The French legislature said, 'I am paternalistic': since the workers don’t know how to separate work and their private lives, I will compel them to sever them. There is a very clear statement here to allow employees of a kind of quality of life. It's very appropriate that this came from the French. I'm not sure that our inquisitive character can forego this incessant use of the smartphone."

Can employers require employees to work outside of office hours?

Shmuelevich says that the answer lies mainly in the job contract. For ordinary positions, which have set hours, say from 8 am to 4:30 pm, working or answering telephone and e-mails is allowed in exchange for payment of overtime. The employer has the right to ask an employee to work overtime, but must pay for it. The contract of such an employee will usually include a general clause that states that the employee is required from time to time to work overtime at the office or at home.

The second, and more widespread, way to arrange this, especially in high tech, is a global payment for extra hours, usually 20-40 extra hours a month, during which the employee must be available, even at home or on vacation abroad.

"High-tech companies talk explicitly about the need to work from home," says Shmuelevich. "Many companies work with the US and Japan, and because of time differences, work from home is necessary."

Another example is law firms, which not only make a global overtime payment, but install at their own expense Internet access, and check the employees' logons and logoffs. At large firms, mothers who leave the office early must work in the evening as part of the position.

"Globes": What if this is not mentioned in the job contract?

Shmeulevich: "The Hours of Work and Rest Law states that an employee who answers e-mails from home is eligible for overtime. It's not charity."

What if they don’t want to work from home?

"They cannot be compelled, but this is the kind of thing that come up during a job interview. Refusal can be a consideration for preferring a different applicant."

What about work on Saturday?

"There is an explicit line in the Hours of Work and Rest Law, which states that it is not permitted to compel an employee to work on Saturday, so this cannot be a cause for not hiring him."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 28, 2014

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

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